This is not a drill

At my church our value and mission statement talks about how we ‘welcome without exception’.  This past weekend this statement was put to the test.  As a congregation we voted on whether or not to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) community; one that explicitly welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  This vote was a true test of our mission statement and a timely moment to find out who we are as a congregation.  In a time when there is a lot of uncertainty for minority groups and emboldened hate crimes are occurring, knowing that my local congregation passed this with 95.2% of the vote brought tearful elation.

The results of a different vote the week prior brought me confusion, concern, and disappointment.  As someone who believes that the number one priority of every nation should be moving away from fossil fuels, the whole US election cycle was a disappointment.  The debates did not have any direct climate change questions and the topic was touched on for less than 2 minutes.  It appeared as though something that is incredibly important to me had virtually no prioritization with the candidates or moderators.  I empathize with Trump voters and agree that a shakeup in Washington would be beneficial.  It would be great to see term limits for politicians and having less “Washington insiders” in leadership roles.  To me, the views documented by Trump on his own website and his treatment of humans created a scenario where the ends would never justify the means.

The president elects website indicates that he intends to open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands for fossil fuels and “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”  I think it is generally understood that there is no such thing as “clean coal” and I truly cannot imagine any scenario where increasing our production and use of fossil fuels will be a long term benefit.  Despite being white, heterosexual, male, Christian, and born in the US, I am afraid of the president elect.  I can only imagine how an undocumented lesbian tree hugging minority must be feeling at the moment.

This is a critical moment in history in my opinion, one of those moments where I think about a futuristic conversation with my children and grandchildren asking me what I did to protect human rights as well as the habitability of our planet.  While I have day dreamed many times recently about moving off of the grid and completely escaping the society that seems to be gaining a voice, I realize that I need to help shape it.  I need to Testify.  One other great thing happened at church this last Sunday was a well-timed sermon that I strongly encourage you to give a listen to, you can skip to the 9:03 mark and go from there.  It is important that we as a society, as human beings with compassion, and as citizens of this planet recognize this opportunity to Testify and stand up for ourselves and others.  We need to ensure our elected leaders understand that they were actually elected to follow (the will of the people).  The wonderful and timely sermon concluded with a great rendition of Leonard Cohens’ Hallelujah which of course only added to the tears already rolling down my face.

Advertisements

See something, Say something

The “If You See Something, Say Something” mantra became commonplace after 9/11 and there is still an active campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which they licensed from the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The campaign includes signs stating this near airport entrances, public service announcements, partnerships with various agencies, and more. At the core of the DHS initiative is the idea that “It takes a community to protect a community. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe.” After watching a Frontline episode last night (American Terrorist) which outlined the story of David Headley and the failures of intelligence analysis to prevent the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the need for everyday citizens to speak up when something seems wrong is critical. Despite their best efforts, security agencies cannot effectively review the 3 million e-mails sent every minute and the countless other online communications to keep nations safe from terrorism. They require the help of everyday citizens to speak up.

At the start of today, I found myself very frustrated. It is Earth Day and the amount of fanfare and conversations about it seem very limited. Many folks I have encountered seem to have no knowledge of it and give it no more thought than National Candy Corn Day, Peculiar People Day, or Talk like Shakespeare Day. Yes, those are all real “days”. On the one hand it is sad that we need an Earth Day and that every day is not spent helping to better promote caring for the one planet we have. On the other hand, we will see an increase in some media coverage today regarding the importance of mitigating our use of fossil fuels which might spark some healthy dialogue. Unfortunately much of the media attention today thus far has been focused on the differing opinions and giving equal airtime to those opposed to action despite the overwhelming evidence that the time to act has been in hand for a long time. One example is president Obama giving an address on the importance of taking action while in the Florida Everglades today. The leading media outlets are busy talking about how the fossil fuel funded presidential nominees are responding and the uncertainty they feel there is on man’s impact to the warming planet. The story should be as simple as 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred this century, the last global cold temperature record was in 1911, the greenhouse effect has been well understood for nearly 200 years, and more than 97% of peer reviewed papers on the subject agree that global warming is real and being caused by human activity. Global warming is not something to believe in or not believe in, it is a scientific explanation for the facts.

Part of my frustration stems from a lack of meaningful action being taken by society as a whole, or I should clarify, the frustration stems mostly from a lack of meaningful action being taken by the U.S. Working towards handing future generations a planet thriving and sustainable should be a core priority to be taking the lead on. Instead, we (the U.S.) consistently see profit margins and the economy taking priority over the environment. One recent example is the desire by some in Congress to turn over the federal public lands and national parks to states to manage. This includes a provision allowing the states to privatize the land for mining, drilling, and to sell portions to real estate companies in the name of economic progress. Sure, selling some of the northern Minnesota forests to a paper mill might create some jobs and additional tax revenue, but what if every state acted selfishly like this and did not consider the broader impacts? If we want economic benefits and a healthier planet, the answer is a carbon fee and dividend program which will help gradually shift us away from fossil fuels while not punishing taxpayers.

So on this Earth Day, let’s not lose sight of our moral, spiritual, and personal responsibility to care for this pale blue dot. We as a collective society need to do more of See something, Say something. There is a fine between bringing a concern forward and getting traction versus appearing like a crazy person. I have had various successes and failures in this area and have no doubt a few people I have engaged view me as radical, in part because my approach was not as respectful and articulate as it should have been. Implementing an environmental See something Say something campaign could be trying to get your local sports facility to recycle, getting your kids school to stop using polystyrene, or trying to get your company to investigate the ROI on installing solar panels where the typical ROI is now 7-10 years. Regardless of your passions, establishing a constructive dialog is usually the first step in making improvements so on this Earth Day and every day that follows; let’s not be afraid to use our voice.

Global thoughts

We have likely all seen the bumper sticker or heard the phrase “think globally, act locally” but human nature sometimes makes that difficult. Despite NOAA, NASA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the UK Met Office all stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record, it has been colder than normal where I live as depicted in the picture above. This localized cold sometimes makes conversations about climate change and our warming planet more challenging. In addition, people who live in the upper Midwest of the U.S. sometimes take to the opinion that a few degrees warmer sure would be nice and it is less expensive than moving to Kansas. Ironically, if our planet was just 7 degrees colder those of us in the upper latitudes would be under a mile of ice. Looking at the data above, helps get back to seeing a good depiction of a global problem. While in the upper Midwest we might have been fighting a polar vortex that caused school closings and travel restrictions, many other areas throughout the globe were fighting record heat and drought in 2014.

It is even more important to look at long term trends as depicted in the chart below taken from a data query I did on the NOAA website. It is disheartening to know that every year my children have been alive, global temperatures have been above historical averages. December 2014 was the 358th consecutive month where global temperatures were above average. In addition, 13 of the hottest years on record (since 1880) have been in the last 15 years. The scientific consensus on whether the warming is manmade or not is overwhelming everywhere except the U.S. Senate and the U.S. media. All 38 National Academies of Science agree, the hundreds of AMS organizations all agree, and peer reviewed scientific articles have outnumbered those opposed 500:1 for over 20 years.

1880-2014

What if we change our mindset to align with the former chief economist of the World Bank (Sir Nicholas Stern) and many others who view this problem as a market failure? After all, we typically do not let industries dump their garbage and toxins for free. A market failure is when costs are shifted to non-users and that is precisely what has happened here. In one way or another, everyone is currently paying for carbon regardless of their usage. Typically when markets fail, governments intervene in one of four ways: R&D, Subsidies, Regulation, or Taxes. R&D is great but in reality we already have the technology and knowledge needed though continued improvements in efficiency will help. Subsidies help but they are expensive and not politically viable, with little ROI. Regulation is good by forcing more fuel efficiency and standards on emissions, but that is quite simply not enough to move the needle significantly. And everyone hates to talk about taxes, though that is exactly what is needed here. The Citizens Climate Lobby is advocating a $10 / ton tax on CO2 with that increasing $10 each year for 20 years. To put that in perspective, in year one it would be ~10 cents per gallon at the pump and ~1.2 cents per kWh for electricity. The beauty of their proposal is that it would be 100% revenue neutral, meaning all of the tax revenue would be returned to American households equally without the government keeping anything. Imagine you, me, and Keith Hernandez all getting a monthly dividend check for the same amount. This type of tax would be a light switch moment, immediately shifting behaviors and decisions of consumers. In the past year gay marriage had a light switch moment and though there are a few states with their hand still on the dimmer switch, tremendous progress has been made. Eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels needs a similar moment to give it momentum and move us forward.

So this brings us back to thinking globally and acting locally. If you are reading this, you have much to be grateful for in terms of being born where and when you were and more. Understand that our lifestyle and choices have impacts on the planet as a whole and small iterative changes can have large impacts when multiplied by billions of people. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. I encourage you to investigate joining one of the CCL’s weekly intro calls to learn more how you can help our elected leaders respond to our citizens political will.

 

Litigious Shenanigans

Anyone who knows me or has read some prior blog posts knows I am a huge fan of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and electric vehicles in general. The math of electric cars is undeniably compelling and will be the subject of a future blog post.

TSLA has been on the receiving end of countless lawsuits in recent years by automobile dealer associations and others. Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia and others have lawsuits in various stages of flight and appeals trying to completely block TSLA from selling to consumers, limiting how many vehicles they can sell, etc. In fact, it is currently illegal in Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas for TSLA to sell directly to consumers. Despite this TSLA has stores in many states (see map above) including those that block the direct sale, where consumers can get more information, see and drive the car, and then go home and order online. The core argument of this litigation is that the direct sales model TSLA has violates state automotive franchise rules and that the TSLA sales model would set a precedent that ‘threatens the way independent franchises have sold and serviced vehicles for eight decades’.

This type of argument is so monolithic and predictable, with obvious$ motivations. It is unclear to me how this is a different approach than a local grocery store trying to block a farmers market or girl scout from selling cookies. It was not too many years ago when the big three sat with their hands out asking for a bailout simply because they were unable to adapt to the changing needs of consumers and watched competitors like Toyota make record profits by selling efficient and reliable cars. You would think that the auto industry would be watching the success TSLA is having and implementing options for adapting their sales model and products to compete, similar to what big box retailers had to do to compete with Amazon. The auto industry should also be reveling in the fact that TSLA recently made their patents public.

In his “All Our Patent Are Belong To You” blog post, CEO of TSLA Elon Musk wrote: “Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” Of course the release of the patents initially scared Wall Street who thought perhaps Elon was having a Tony Stark (Ironman) like moment but despite all of the obstacles and naysayers, TSLA stock has had over 1000% growth in a few short years. At a time where numerous other companies are fleeing for tax inversion benefits or cheap overseas labor, it appears as though later today TSLA will officially announce that Nevada will be the site of the new 5 billion dollar battery factory which will create 6,500 jobs in northern Nevada. Seeing a CEO with the passion, vision, and ethical fiber to put environmental stewardship in high regard is refreshing and I look forward to the continued innovation.

Tainted: North Dakota

First, I feel it is important to say that I have friends and family in North Dakota (ND) and I am confident that there are plenty of good people in the state doing good things. Hopefully tainting ND does not get me uninvited to an upcoming wedding. However, the way the fossil fuel industry is running portions of the state is not in humanity’s best interest. A recent L.A. Times article outlined the volume of natural gas flaring currently being done in ND. The picture above illustrates this well; in the Williston Basin where the Bakken oil fields are there is not a major metropolitan area and yet a picture from outer space depicts a different story, simply from all of the natural gas flares being burned and wasted. Currently $1 billion worth of natural gas is flared each year in ND, about 30% of total production. There are not too many industries where you can ‘throw away’ 30% of your product and still be highly profitable. But natural gas flaring and wasted energy are just the tip of the iceberg in Western ND. Portions of the state are neck deep in an “oil boom” which has helped lead to an incredibly low unemployment rate but has brought on numerous unintended consequences. ND has failed to get ahead of the needs surrounding infrastructure, crime prevention, and governance. This has led to overuse and erosion of infrastructure, a wave of illegal waste dumping and other crime, and disputes over land and mineral rights. There are examples where it appears as though the fossil fuel industry has politicians bought and paid for or perhaps have just been allowed to conduct business to make the most profit with little regard for the long term economic and environmental consequences. ND produces over a million barrels of oil per day and has 17,500 miles of pipelines. In September 2013 a spill released over 20k barrels and was only reported to the public after an Associated Press inquiry. It is a relief to know that while oil covered over 7 acres, officials stated no wildlife was harmed and no groundwater was contaminated <sarcasm>. Cleanup crews opted to burn oil on the surface and later dug ditches to collect and vacuum what remained. Starting oil on fire as a cleanup procedure is an interesting approach, let’s hope they do not begin doing that at local car repair shops. Further research revealed that there have been over 300 spills since January 2012 that were never reported to the public. Jim Fuglie, a ND native and former governor appointed Director of Tourism has a great blog outlining more of the issues here. If the oil ever does run out, ND has the single largest known deposit of lignite (coal) in the world and may choose to move from exporting one dirty fuel source to another. And a few final statistics on ND; the state’s energy consumption per capita is the 4th highest in the US, 79% of all electricity generation comes from coal, and wind farms have taken a back seat to oil despite the state being ranked 6th highest in wind energy potential with average wind speeds of 10-13 mph.

The beeping bleeping hummer

Once each winter my son has an out of town hockey tournament and this weekend was it.  There are few things he looks forward to more; as a pre-teen boy what could be more desirable than playing an excessive number of games of a sport you love in a shortened time frame while getting to spend every waking minute with your friends swimming, eating pizza, playing Xbox, participating in general shenanigans, and getting out of school early to make it all happen.

At about 1:10am we were both awoken by the sound of a car alarm going off.  It would silence for an intermittent amount of time, sometimes 20 seconds, sometimes a few minutes and then sound again for another half minute or so.  Eventually the sound became unbearable and I went down to the from desk to inquire what they could do as the sound was clearly coming from a vehicle in their parking ramp.  They dispatched their security officer to investigate and I returned to my room after a brief unsuccessful investigation myself to find the vehicle and ensure it was not mine.

As the sound went on and on I called back to the front desk and they said they were still trying to locate the vehicle but could hear it.  I went back out to assist and found the vehicle one floor up from my room and within 75’ of my rooms window.  The security guard arrived to the vehicle at the same time.  He was about 6’5 and 250# which I found impressive for a hotel security guard.  At first glance I thought he might just rip open the hood and pull the battery out with his bare hands but he opted to take a more diplomatic approach and wrote down the license plate number and went to call the local police department so he could get a registered owner, cross reference it to the guest list, and get the owner to address it.

I noticed two things while in the ramp.  First, the vehicle was a residential Hummer which is a vehicle I have a general negative stereotype about being someone who cares about the planet.  Second I noticed that the dome light was on.  As I returned to my room and let my son who had his head under four pillows know it would be addressed soon I began to wonder if it were possible that the alarm was sounding to warn that the dome light was on.  Could this vehicle which I stereotype as arrogant be so bold that when the dome light is on it feels a need to warn its owner?  Was there some logic in re-designing and marketing of this big dumb residential American vehicle where someone thought that the dome light being left on was so potentially hazardous to the battery that sounding the horn and flashing the exterior lights for hours was warranted?  I began to fear for our troops overseas and hoped that the military version did not have this same logic.  My brain racing I decided to do some quick research and learned that this is a known condition with the hummer and the reason the dome light was on is because the vehicle had gotten wet (rain / snow mix here) and the door sensor (which had also gotten wet) thought the door was ajar.  Apparently this warrants the alarm sounding.  The reaction to a wet door jamb is another condition I hope is different on the military version.

I was tempted to go back to the parking garage and lay eyes on the person that would be coming to fix their car and give them a piece of my mind as I stood safely behind the security guard.  Common sense prevailed and I decided that I also did not want to shatter my stereotype of the owner of this vehicle.  I picture him as a middle aged male who has a full head of hair with product in it and was likely a little groggy from all of the Lowenbrau he had earlier, he likely works in sales and whatever he is selling has some sort of slime / predatory factor where he takes advantage of people.  In my vision, he is staying at the hotel with his son who is on a competing hockey team, his son is a marginal skater and ends up in the penalty box often by trying to make up for his lack of skill and trying to live up to his big dumb American dad’s expectations.

Imagination, stereotypes, and pre-conceived ideas can be powerful things and I could be way off of the mark but I am guessing my vision is closer to the truth than it being owned by an elderly widowed woman who is in town for the birth of her first great grandchild.  On a separate note I would like to add that the Holiday Inn staff responded wonderfully to this issue and my scan through the parking garage also revealed that the hotel had four electric vehicle only spots with charging stations; two of which were occupied (a Volt and a Leaf).  That was simply wonderful to see and kudos to the owners of those vehicles and the hotel for its progressiveness to provide that service.  This entry may have offended a few but I hope it was found humorous to more as that was the intent.  Time to get back to sleep.